Researching the politics of development



The politics of distributing social transfers in Afar, Ethiopia: The intertwining of party, state and clan in the periphery

Working paper 141

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Tom Lavers, Dawud Mohammed and Bisrat Wolde Selassie
This paper examines the politics of distributing social transfers in Ethiopia’s Afar region. Two detailed case studies are used to examine the role of state infrastructural power and party politics in shaping distribution of the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP). The paper emphasises the importance of situating the PSNP within the context of the expansion of a fused party-state alongside a process of economic ‘modernisation’ in Afar over recent decades. This process has contributed to food insecurity, which the PSNP is intended to address, as well as the limited nature of state infrastructural power, with the state reliant to a significant degree on clan structures for local governance. The result is that the PSNP – designed and financed by the federal government and donors – ultimately depends to a significant degree on the authority and territorial reach of the clan for implementation. While past evaluations have highlighted poor implementation, and particularly targeting, in Afar, the study finds that perceived legitimacy of the distribution of the PSNP varies considerably. Though past studies have pointed to the involvement of clan leaders as one of the main causes of poor implementation, this paper suggests that the more fundamental problem is, rather, the lack of infrastructural power of the state that necessitates the involvement of clan leaders.